The speeches, the posturing and the punditry were all predictable, as was the final outcome.
Two hundred and thirty-one House Democrats, with just two defectors, voted yesterday to back the impeachment inquiry against President Trump, while 194 Republicans, with one former party member defecting, voted against the measure.
It was a set-piece ritual of the kind that Washington loves, and for all the bombast and the bloviating, it’s unlikely that a single mind was changed.
This city woke up filled with bipartisan joy after watching the Nationals clinch the World Series shortly before midnight, but within hours, the air was once again thick with polarizing emotions.
It was not a vote to impeach Trump, though it was clearly a test vote toward that outcome. It comes more than two decades after Newt Gingrich’s House voted to impeach Bill Clinton, and four and a half decades after the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Richard Nixon. After the first 180 years of our republic saw only one impeachment, that of Andrew Johnson, the constitutional provision has become more frequently weaponized in modern politics.
But like the party-line drive against Clinton, this one-sided effort seems almost certain to fail in the Senate.
Trump’s reaction was concise: “The Greatest Witch Hunt in American History!”
The White House rushed out a statement: “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people.”
Nancy Pelosi invoked Ben Franklin and the founders, as she does with growing frequency: “What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”
Kevin McCarthy reduced it to raw politics: “Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box. Why do you not trust the people?”
Steve Scalise had a hammer-and-sickle sign as the GOP argued it’s a “Soviet-style” process.
Everyone is quoting Alexander Hamilton.
It was a day to argue over process, which is what Washington does best, as opposed to substance, to which the town often seems allergic.
Pelosi made the move because the Republican criticism about a closed-door process, with selective leaking of testimony, was starting to sting. She knows she needs to move toward public hearings and to set some rules of the road.
The speaker also must believe that the political winds have shifted. Earlier, she wanted to spare nearly three dozen Democrats in districts won by Trump from having to cast an early impeachment-related vote. Now, after heavily negative coverage of administration witnesses contradicted Trump on Ukraine, and a slight shift in the polls, such a vote appears safe.
What’s more, Pelosi has an eye on the clock. As the private hearings drag on, talk of holding a final impeachment vote by Thanksgiving have faded; now Democrats are hoping to wrap things up by Christmas. That would mean a Senate trial in January, and with more snags, it could spill over into the early February primary voting. Impeachment is already depriving the Democratic candidates of media oxygen; this would be unprecedented, and would pull the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar off the campaign trail.
Despite these uncertainties, the whole impeachment saga has the feel of a scripted process. Pelosi once argued that impeachment could not work without being bipartisan—suddenly that’s off the table. But there’s no stopping this train now.